1 November 2014 Lawn
I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A busy day I clear the leaves from the lawn
Mary’s back much better today, breakfast weight down gammon for tea and her back pain is still there but decreasing.
René Burri was a Swiss photographer for Magnum Photos who captured the inner sanctums of artists and revolutionaries
René Burri in 2007 Photo: Magnum Photos/Bruno Barbey
6:29PM GMT 31 Oct 2014
René Burri, who has died aged 81, was a Swiss photographer renowned for his images of leading political, military and cultural figures of the latter half of the 20th century.
As a key member of the Magnum Photos agency, Burri made his name during the 1950s and 1960s with shadowy studies of South American cities and informal portraits of artists, such as Pablo Picasso and Alberto Giacometti. Burri’s most celebrated photographs, however, were his shots from 1963 of the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara chomping on a cigar in a Havana hotel.
As press photographers roamed Cuba looking for a scoop in the wake of the missile crisis, Burri was granted rare access to Guevara. At the time, the Argentine was second-in-command of the Cuban revolutionary administration, under Fidel Castro; he was Cuba’s minister for industry and director of the Banco Nacional, with his face on the two peso note. Accompanying Laura Bergquist, a reporter with Look magazine, Burri arrived at the Hotel Riviera to find Guevara on fighting form. “It was very aggressive, like a cock fight,” said Burri. “Guevara stomped around in his office like a caged tiger.”
Guevara and Laura Bergquist immediately began arguing about the crisis. “She had to take back a story for the Americans, who were still angry about the revolution, and he was trying to convince her that what happened had to happen,” recalled Burri. “For two and a half hours I could just dance around them with my camera. It was an incredible opportunity to shoot Che in all kinds of situations: smiling, furious, from the back, from the front.” He went through eight films during the interview.
One shot in particular, of Guevara leaning back and looking in one direction while his smouldering cigar juts out in another, was to become world famous. Burri, however, remained modest about his part in its popularity: “A photograph is a moment, when you press the button, it will never come back. This picture is famous thanks to the chap with the cigar, not to me.”
René Burri was born on April 9 1933 in Zurich. He took his first important photograph, aged 13, of Winston Churchill driving past him on a local street in an open-topped car. He studied at Zurich’s School of Applied Arts from 1949 to 1953, and on leaving worked as an assistant cameraman for the Swiss arm of Walt Disney Films.
In 1956 Burri joined Magnum Photos. The pioneering agency was founded in 1947 by a small group of photographers, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, who described the cooperative as “a community of thought, a shared human quality, a curiosity about what is going on in the world, a respect for what is going on and a desire to transcribe it visually”. Burri fitted in perfectly. His first photo-essay was picked up by Time magazine.
Che Guevera by René Burri (René Burri/Magnum Photos)
He travelled widely and won commissions from Paris-Match, Stern and The New York Times. His pictures captured all of human life, from gauchos on horseback to John F Kennedy’s funeral. The geometric post-war structures of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro informed many of his best landscapes, while his work with artists and authors (Le Corbusier in his atelier; Georges Simenon out walking) taught him sensitivity: “You must not come at it like a bulldozer.”
Burri photographed South Vietnamese troops in action in the Mekong Delta and the building of the Berlin Wall. “Every time I walked away after having a gun held to my head, I thought, you’ve been lucky one more time,” he said.
In 1963, having turned down an opportunity five years earlier, he went to Cuba to photograph Castro and Guevara. While there he learnt how the latter became head of the national bank. “One of Castro’s aides asked: ‘Is there an economist in the room?’ ” recalled Burri. “To everyone’s surprise, Che stuck up his hand. Because they were all in awe of him, they voted him governor of the bank. It turns out Che had misheard the question. He thought the guy had asked: ‘Is there a Communist in the room?’ ”
Pablo Picasso in Provence by René Burri (René Burri/Magnum Photos)
Burri never discovered what Guevara thought of his famous picture. Other subjects were more forthcoming. In particular, he struck up a bond with Pablo Picasso . “For me Picasso was the ultimate man,” said Burri. “He taught me that photography is all about how you approach an image. What you do and what you don’t do. He inspired me to go beyond what you think is in front of you.”
Working in film, Burri produced documentaries on subjects including China, the Six-Day War and the artist Jean Tinguely. He also experimented with collage works.
Burri was elected chairman of Magnum France in 1982 and an honorary fellow of The Royal Photographic Society in 2002.
His many books include a retrospective, René Burri Photographs (2012), and René Burri: Impossible Reminiscences (2013).
He is survived by his second wife, Clotilde Blanc, their son, and by two children of his first marriage.
René Burri, born April 9 1933, died October 20 2014
Children at a state secondary school. ‘The only way to create a truly comprehensive education system would be to abolish private education altogether.’ writes Jol Miskin. Photograph: Ian Shaw/Alamy
I read the piece by Claire Hynes (A middle-class meritocracy myth, 31 October) with mounting anger – not because I care where Ms Hynes or her friends choose to send their children to school, but because I object to the use of the word scrapheap. According to Ms Hynes, if you do not get A grades, go to university and get a middle-class job (whatever that is), you are a piece of rubbish. Well, guess what? Not everyone is academic and it seems to be one of the greatest lies told to young people today that only if you get that university degree will the doors to being a worthy member of society open for you.
You might end up at 21 working in a call centre on minimum wage with £50,000 of debts when you could have gone to work there at 16 and have no debts. By the way, does that count as a middle- or working-class job? I know someone whose daughter had learning difficulties and left school with no qualifications at all. I don’t think sending her to private school would have made any difference. However, she works and has always worked as a cleaner. Presumably, Ms Hynes would consider her on the scrapheap, whereas I consider her a very useful member of society. This is the problem – we do not value so-called working-class jobs enough. These jobs are essential to all of us. While some of us are fannying about with our “important” work, we need people to stack our supermarket shelves, clean the toilets in the fancy hotels (or hospitals) we stay in, flip burgers (that much favoured example of a worst job) and all the other so-called “scrapheap” jobs we would rather not do ourselves. So why can’t we say that these are important worthwhile jobs?
It strikes me that this is a continuation of the class system. Instead of saying that anyone who actually has to go out to work to live is working class, we only put people doing certain jobs in this category. We are told that we must continually strive for upward social mobility, but that is like saying that everyone must become better than average. People are all different. We need people to do all sorts of different jobs. Please let us value all jobs and all people equally and stop using this demeaning language.
• What a depressing piece and a complete cop-out. On the basis of Hynes’s argument, we should all give up on any injustice because the rich and powerful control the world and so we might just as well accept that and get what we can from the system – the “we” being the better-off middle class – and hope that one day others will create a better world, and then we’ll sign up to it. But only then.
To quote Hynes: “If the day ever arrives that a British government is truly committed to promoting equality of opportunity, I’ll gladly cough up the extra taxes or do whatever’s required to support it.” Very decent I’m sure, Claire. Social progress has only happened when people have taken a stand. Do we want a fairer, better education for all? I imagine Hynes does. But rather than taking a stand she chooses to perpetuate the current unfair system. And let’s not forget that most state education is absolutely fine – in spite of government policy – and to suggest otherwise is simply incorrect. The only way to create a truly comprehensive education system would be to abolish private education altogether. Hynes’s piece only strengthens my view.
Workers’ Educational Association, Yorkshire and Humber Region
• You don’t need to read Claire Hynes’s article on sending kids to private schools; just imagine the sound of a ladder being pulled up before anyone else can get on the first rung; or imagine a conscience, wrestled into submission, salving itself with a logic-defying rationalisation. Can state education survive and prosper without Ms Hynes and her offspring? I think so, but perhaps it can never be good enough for people who view extreme inequality as an opportunity to be exploited.
To support “the scrapheap”, parliament should remove charitable status from private schools, charge punitive taxes on school fees and do whatever is necessary to stop people misusing education to buy privilege.
• Claire Hynes asks whether children from rich, middling and poor backgrounds all enjoy similar life chances by attending the same state school. Obviously not, but the presence of middle-class kids in a school challenges the less privileged to up their academic game and achieve better results. It also makes teaching more satisfying as a profession and helps attract better candidates; ergo the quality of state schools gradually improves.
Ultimately parents like Claire must do what they believe is best for their children, but if their decision might help others, then all the better.
• Hynes says she was “assigned to the scrapheap” in her comprehensive school. Yet she can afford private education for her own children. Some scrapheap.
Poppy wreaths are not “prettified and toothless” (Letters, 31 October), they do make a valid point; but to claim neutrality for the red poppy is being disingenuous. The American Moina Michael, whose idea it was in 1918 to use the red poppy to commemorate the fallen, took her inspiration from Lt Col John McCrae’s We Shall Not Sleep, now better known as In Flanders Field, which includes the unequivocal line “Take up our quarrel with the foe”.
When the red poppy came to be adopted in Britain three years later, it was promoted by the British Legion under their founding president General Douglas Haig in order to raise funds for British service personnel and their families. So yes, there may be some inference of the red poppy being partisan.
In order to commemorate all the war dead, might I suggest that, like Green party MP Caroline Lucas on BBC’s Question Time, you wear a white poppy at the same time (www.ppu.org.uk). Bravo, Ms Lucas.
• Melanie Henwood’s intemperate diatribe against Jonathan Jones’s reaction to the red poppies at the Tower of London (guardianonline, 28 October) misses the point. The significance of the red poppy has been devalued by using it as a symbol of “sacrifice” and “honour” instead of solemn remembrance and a determination to end war. The Festival of Remembrance and the Remembrance Sunday ceremony at the Cenotaph have been turned into militaristic occasions to encourage recruiting and forget the inhumanity of warfare. Does the British Legion still carry advertisements for arms dealers in the back of the programme for the Festival of Remembrance?
Your article (The great British TV sell-off: who owns the UK’s favourite shows?, Media Guardian, 27 October) raises many interesting points about ownership of TV production companies in the UK. The article is correct in stating that foreign-owned companies are no longer “independent” – but it fails to add that they cannot benefit from terms-of-trade agreements or independent production quotas, which independent TV production companies enjoy. The market share of these foreign-owned companies has only marginally increased in the past five years, from 20% of network commissioned hours to 21%. The BBC is still by far the largest producer in the UK market, with 48%.
The article fails to point out that it is a two-way street. Many UK production companies have bought or invested in American companies, not least ITV, which now owns so many production companies in the US that it is the largest independent producer in America. The UK television industry is part of a global business – in which we punch well above our weight in creativity and exports. It is a sign of our success that businesses from around the globe want to invest in the UK production and broadcasting markets. You only have to look towards more protectionist countries such as France or Canada to see TV industries that are falling behind.
Finally, far from it being a problem that British firms are being taken over, we should look to the hundreds of TV production companies, currently members of Pact, to see that independent television is still a thriving British industry.
Chief executive, Pact (Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television)
So the British immigration system is in chaos as “IT failures cost £1bn” (Report, 29 October). Would there be any merit in an article describing government IT projects that have actually worked – ie come in on time and within budget and do what they are supposed to do? Might it be a rather short article?
Bangor, County Down
• I never do any DIY (Letters, 31 October). For every nail that I hammer in, shelf that I put up, room that I paint or paper, I am depriving some honest local tradesman of his daily bread. I support local artisans. Well, that’s my excuse.
• Gaby Hinsliff may argue that Feminism is for everyone – even men and Tories (30 October), but since the T-shirts cost £45 a time, looking like a feminist might be more a question of one’s bank balance than one’s politics.
Sir, Being mayor of Calais does not make Natacha Bouchart an expert on the motivation of refugees and economic migrants (“Calais goes to war over ‘soft touch’ UK benefits”, news, Oct 29). Most UK immigrants are inspired by the fact that there is already a community from their own country established here, usually in London. It is the network of support and comfort they can receive from their fellow Somalis, Ethiopians, Syrians and Libyans, rather than any cash benefit, that drives them. They may also be aware that Britain is one of the few EU countries where no racist mass round-up and murder of any minority ethnic group has occurred.
Sir, The UK’s generous benefit system is a great magnet for migrants, and equally attractive is the NHS. We can never eradicate the human desire to migrate. What Britain can do is help other nations to provide their citizens with healthcare and social benefits.
For example, Camp Bastion should be converted into a kind of basic healthcare facility for the Afghan people rather than left as a ghost town.
This will reduce pressure on Afghan people who might be considering migrating to the UK. This would be beneficial to the UK economy as well as support Afghans as they emerge from the devastating effects of war.
Sir, Migrant movement would not be stopped by UK departure from the EU. Nor would the problem be stopped by statutory attempts to cut off state support from migrants.
The courts would not enforce governmental attempts to allow migrants to starve and become ill.
The state’s obligation to provide support and subsistence to protect those whose life and health would otherwise be seriously threatened does not depend on governmental aims. It depends on what the courts have called “the law of humanity, which is anterior to all . . . laws” (R v Inhabitants of Eastbourne 1803).
Roger McCarthy QC
Sir, I am sure that I am not alone in feeling pride in the fact that so many immigrants regard Britain as a “soft touch”. It implies generosity and kindness. I am proud of the many voluntary organisations which help immigrants. Of course there are bad apples, but most are just ordinary people simply trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. It would be naive to suppose that all can be accommodated in our overcrowded island, but the recent denigration of immigrants and the use of the word “swamping” is a cause for shame.
Where are the brave, idealistic politicians appealing to our values of tolerance and decency instead of the grubby votecatchers playing to our lowest instincts?
Sir, Those of us opposed to present levels of immigration are not anti-immigrant. I for one oppose further large-scale immigration on the grounds that England, the recipient of 90 per cent of immigrants to Britain, is overpopulated. France with a land area of 210,000 sq miles has 66 million people. England, with a land area 50,000 sq miles has 50 million. We do not have the land area, infrastructure or resources to accommodate millions more people. As long as we remain part of the EU, under present arrangements we shall be swamped by numbers.
A responsible government would put the welfare of our population before the wishes of would-be immigrants. An even more responsible government would plan future taxation and benefit policies aimed at reducing the present unsustainable population growth.
South Petherton, Somerset
Sir, It is always important that teachers are given the resources to support children starting school who do not speak English as a first language (“Schools need help to cope with migrants,” Ofsted says, News, Oct 31). The government must also invest in improving English language for migrant families so that parents can reinforce their child’s learning at home and work with teachers to raise attainment.
Chief executive, Teacher Support Network Group, London N5
Sir, My son has recently moved to work in Bulgaria. Thanks to EU rules, he has been able to do this with a minimum of fuss. He has been cordially received and no-one has accused him of swamping them or stealing their job. What a wonderful thing is the free movement of people.
Sir, Michael Pean would like Londoners to acknowledge that “the North” is Tyneside rather than Manchester (letter, Oct 29). I moved from Manchester to Edinburgh many years ago and when I took a holiday cottage in the Western Highlands, a neighbour asked me where I came from. “Edinburgh,” I proudly replied in my new found Scottish accent. “Och, a Southerner” he said dismissively.
Dr John Burton
North Perrott, Somerset
Sir, I am surprised by your leader (“Play up, there is nothing wrong with giving people what they want,” Oct 30).
Van Morrison’s Albert Hall performance — part of the annual BluesFest — was dazzling. No, it did not include Moondance, but this was not a jazz event. Running to less than two hours, the set might have seemed short, but we should not confuse quality with quantity.
Van Morrison did not squander time on banter, introductions or tunings and he delivered an evening of pure blues magic.
It is refreshing when the artist does not feel obliged to deliver the now seemingly obligatory, self-indulgent, encore. We left feeling satisfied and uplifted.
Sir, When I joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) in 1960, our standard-issue uniform included white shirts and detachable collars, heavily starched by the laundry. Not only were the collar studs uncomfortable, but the razor-sharp folded collar scratched our necks, leaving unsightly red marks. This could be neutralised by the application of candlewax along the collar edge.
Sir, Politicians love quoting Churchill. Why did they not heed the words he wrote in 1897 on military action in Afghanistan? “Financially it is ruinous. Morally it is wicked. Politically it is a blunder.”
House of Lords, London
Sir, David Cameron considers cutting taxes to be a moral duty (leading article, Oct 30) and I can imagine voters rubbing their hands together at the prospect of being £3,800 a year better off. However, is it not also a moral duty for the government to ensure that less fortunate members of our “civilised” society are adequately provided for? I refer particularly to the disabled and the mentally ill who, according to recent reports, are not getting a fair deal. Mr Cameron would stand a better chance of getting my vote if, rather than giving me an extra £3,800 a year, he promised to use that money to provide frontline staff in the NHS wherever the need is greatest.
The soldier who embodied multi-ethnic war effort
Sepoy Khudadad Khan was the first Indian soldier to receive the Victoria Cross
6:56AM GMT 31 Oct 2014
SIR – As we will soon come together to remember all those whose lives have been lost in conflict, we wish today to highlight one man whose service exemplified the courage of many who served in the First World War.
One hundred years ago on this day, Sepoy Khudadad Khan, of the 129th Baluchis, became the first Indian soldier to receive Britain’s highest award for valour, the Victoria Cross. Khan’s regiment was supporting the British Expeditionary Force to prevent German troops taking vital ports in France and Belgium.
As the line was pushed back, the machine gunner, badly wounded and massively outnumbered, held off the German advance long enough for Indian and British reinforcements to arrive and prevent the enemy making the final breakthrough. He was the sole survivor of his team.
The First World War brought together soldiers from across the Empire to fight for Britain. Born in what is now Pakistan, Khan was just one of the 1.2 million Indian soldiers, and the 400,000 Muslims, who fought alongside British troops in 1914.
It is important today that all of our children know this shared history of contribution and sacrifice if we are to understand fully the multi-ethnic Britain that we are today. The gallant Sepoy Khan embodies that history.
General Lord Dannatt
Former Chief of the General Staff
Lord Richards of Herstmonceux
Former Chief of the Defence Staff
Major-General Tim Cross (retd)
Professor Sir Hew Strachan
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon
Amjad Bashir MEP
UKIP communities spokesman
President, Islamic Society, Britain
Dan Jarvis MP (Labour)
Damian Collins MP (Con)
Chair, New Horizons in British Islam>
Director, British Future
Afzal Amin PPC (Con)
Major Hugo Clarke (retd)
Keith Simpson MP (Con)
Rt Hon John Denham MP (Lab)
Rt Hon Sadiq Khan MP (Lab)
In Flanders Field the poppies blow: a horse wears the symbolic flower on Remembrance Day Photo: Alamy
6:57AM GMT 31 Oct 2014
SIR – Major John Cann asks if there is a correct date to start wearing a poppy.
I think it seems appropriate that we wear a poppy for the 11 days leading up to and including the 11th day of the 11th month.
However, it is an individual decision. Those who fell gave their lives so that we might have freedom of choice.
SIR – I was told that you don’t wear your poppy till you’ve let off your fireworks.
SIR – Is there a correct date on which to write to The Daily Telegraph to ask which date to start wearing a poppy? It seems to get earlier every year.
SIR – Has anyone noticed a trend for classical-themed potatoes?
Sainsbury’s sell Vivaldi, Marks & Spencer sell Chopin and Waitrose sell Mozart.
Jean Cheesman and Ruth Dowding
Six feet under
SIR – It wasn’t just Spike Milligan; Peter Cook asked to be buried beneath his resident’s parking space.
SIR – Why all the fuss about blokes shouting out comments to women (“Woman catcalled 108 times as she walks around New York”, report, October 29)?
When I was eight months pregnant, a man I passed shouted about how fat I was. I quickly responded: “In a couple of weeks I’ll be slim again, but you’ll still be as thick as a plank.”
South Somercotes, Lincolnshire
It’s no wonder
SIR – For my part, I wonder how Nick Robinson of the BBC pronounces wander, and I worry.
Schools need to do more to encourage physical and mental health
6:58AM GMT 31 Oct 2014
SIR – At last, a health secretary who argues that it is much better to prevent people becoming ill than to spend billions looking after them once avoidable illness has occurred.
Now Jeremy Hunt needs to talk to Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary. Schools across Britain should be doing far more to encourage physical and mental health.
At present, schools are judged merely by their exam records. They should also nurture personal responsibility for healthy living in the young, an idea that would stay with them for life.
Sir Anthony Seldon
Master, Wellington College
Fighting child abuse
SIR – We have read, with anguish, the reports of child abuse in Britain. Because of ill-treatment, these children will be scarred for the rest of their lives.
There are two issues here. First, why are homes (often care homes) so unhappy that children find the streets more acceptable? Secondly, what should be done with the perverted men who exploit children for sordid gratification and monetary gain?
The police have said they will make the children their first priority. We believe that they should focus on the men; naming them, shaming them and locking them up should be the aim.
Ruth and Eric Howarth
High price of holidays
SIR – Judith Woods says that she paid a 25 per cent premium when renting a holiday cottage this week, just because it is half-term. She says that “market forces” prevail, but then talks about “ratcheting up the prices”.
I co-own a holiday bungalow in north Devon. This is run as a business, with a view to making a profit. Much as we would love our house to be booked throughout the year, people are not keen to visit a seaside bungalow in the middle of winter – Christmas and New Year excepted. We would welcome visitors in January, paying one third of the price we charge at the height of the season, though running costs, such as heating, are higher in winter.
In a very good year, we can let our property for up to 35 weeks. We still have to bear the costs during the 17 vacant weeks, including gas and electricity, television licence, wi-fi, and maintenance, and we have to make our mortgage payments every month, regardless of whether any income has been received. We know how much income we need in a year – and that most of it must be earned during school holidays and in July or September.
Justice: Grünenthal, a German pharmaceutical company, produced Thalidomide
6:59AM GMT 31 Oct 2014
SIR – The Thalidomide scandal almost six decades ago continues to have a serious impact on thousands of people who were born severely disabled. Independent reports show that over the past 10 to 15 years, many European Thalidomide survivors have seen their health decline, experiencing complex and continuing health problems.
Several EU countries have still not put in place a formal compensation scheme, while in others the compensation available is not sufficient to meet victims’ health and independent living costs. At the time of the original legal action, a lack of clear evidence prevented lawyers from making the case for a just settlement. This was particularly the case in Germany.
Knowing what we now know, surely the German government has an obligation to meet the needs of the few remaining European Thalidomide survivors?
German ministers should meet representatives of those survivors, with a view to sympathetic consideration of the cases of victims in Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Britain.
Syed Kamall MEP (Con)
New Malden, Surrey
SIR – Private school pupils may be earning more a year than their peers, but we should remember that many of these pupils attended academically selective private schools.
If the statistics were examined, I imagine there would be a correlation between the high-earners and their schools’ success in the A-level results league table.
Members of the Italian Navy helping refugees to climb on their boat in the Mediterranean sea after a rescue operation Photo: AFP/Getty Images
7:00AM GMT 31 Oct 2014
SIR – On the same day that Sir Nicholas Winton was honoured for rescuing 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia in 1939 by transporting them to Britain (“ ‘Britain’s Schindler’ honoured by Czechs”), the British Government explained that, in future, it would be allowing desperate refugees to drown in the Mediterranean pour encourager les autres. We have lost our humanity.
Brighton, East Sussex
SIR – That Ed Miliband has the gall to criticise David Cameron on the subject of immigration control is beyond belief. For 13 years Labour did nothing but let the hordes roll in while promoting diversity – look where that has left us.
SIR – Whether immigration rates are high or low, it is always important that teachers are given the resources to support children starting school who do not speak English as a first language (“Schools ‘aren’t given resources to handle influx’ ”).
But the Government must also invest in improving English language skills in migrant families so that parents can reinforce their child’s learning at home and work with teachers to raise attainment.
Ministers must help all parents – migrants or British-born – to ensure that their children are ready for school, whether that is through health, housing or employment policy, so that teachers can focus on their job: teaching.
Chief Executive, Teacher Support Network Group
SIR – As a former immigration officer, I can vouch for the fact that many migrants, when asked why they travel through other European Union countries to arrive finally in Britain, say that “the UK has human rights”, as if no other EU country has them. They also praise the access to housing, schools, the NHS, etc, that comes with seeking asylum in Britain.
I believe I did my job with open eyes, heart and mind; meeting different people every day from all corners of the globe was a wonderful education, and taught me both tolerance and understanding of my fellow man. I sincerely welcome Andrew Green’s sentiment that we should discuss immigration rationally; it’s a complicated subject that deserves reasoned debate rather than glib sound bites.
Hassocks, West Sussex
SIR – Can the customs officers who decided that Becky the Senegal parrot did not have the correct paperwork to enter Britain be put in charge of immigration?
Sir, – I discussed this issue with a colleague from Greece. He is used to paying for water, but told me the bill at his parents’ house in Athens gets as high as €8 a month in summer. I cannot confirm this but I am going to make a wild guess – by 2017 we will have the dearest water in Europe. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The Government has been repeatedly criticised for “failing to reform” and for not delivering “new politics” – however it’s clear that the public does not want meaningful changes in how Ireland is run.
The property tax, meant to smooth cyclical tax revenues, was resisted tooth and nail despite representing a tiny fraction of the value of homes; bizarrely the most vocal opponents included the Trotskyite parties.
Central Bank rules intended to reduce the cycle of boom and bust in the property market are being watered down after public uproar including from those who position themselves on the left of the political spectrum and those who advocate social justice and fairness.
Now water charges intended to support replacing the crumbling infrastructure and end the anomaly where those with private water sources subsidise their city cousins’ supply (as well as that of holiday homes, etc) through their taxes has provoked the largest marches in years. At the same time as the hoopla over Irish Water remuneration dominates the airwaves, the Government is considering reversing public sector pay cuts without first revisiting the absurd pay levels awarded under what was laughably termed benchmarking.
I hope it is a case that a vocal minority is dominating the debate – otherwise we may as well cut to the chase and bring Bertie Ahern out of retirement and be done with it. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Fionola Meredith (“Why new law banning the purchase of sex is patronising and problematic”, Opinion & Analysis, October 29th) exposes the sheer hypocrisy of the whole campaign to ban the purchase of sex and the pathetic lack of evidence to bolster it. This campaign allegedly set out to rescue sex workers from oppression and violence but did not consult these same workers who strangely don’t want to be “saved” and who provided compelling evidence why this law would put them at greater risk. This highly emotive campaign has been conducted in many countries and the methods are strikingly similar. It is run by an alliance of radical feminists and religious fundamentalists who talk in apocalyptic terms about a tide of trafficking operated by criminal gangs reaping huge profits from sex slaves who are always helpless victims. The evidence increasingly points the other way.
We are now told we must expect similar legislation to be published here before Christmas. Any such Bill introduced here will presumably be based on the report of the Oireachtas justice committee issued in June 2013 which voted unanimously in favour. But the whole process was flawed from the beginning. Turn Off the Red Light, well organised and well funded, managed to persuade a number of organisations, including six trade unions, to join it. Of the 15 justice committee members, seven had declared in favour of the proposal by the first day of hearings. There were 27 speakers on the Turn Off the Red Light side and only seven selected to speak against it.
This law has been rejected by Scotland (three times), Denmark and Finland. The French National Assembly voted for it in a near-empty chamber last December. The French senate rejected it last July after extensive consultations with sex workers who expressed alarm regarding their personal safety. The police opposed it because it would make it more difficult to tackle trafficking networks.
In the face of this evidence, much of it only known since the Oireachtas committee’s report was issued, it would be irresponsible to proceed with this measure. – Yours, etc,
Maynooth, Co Kildare.
Sir, – The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations bring with them the promise of a new era of growth and prosperity for the citizens of the EU and the US. The aspiration to increase integration between two economies that together account for over 50 per cent of global GDP is ambitious, but long overdue. The potential increase in GDP in Ireland of at least 1.1 per cent, or about €2 billion, will rapidly convert into jobs growth, further improvement in government finances and the opportunity to invest in infrastructure and reduce personal tax and universal social charge rates.
An agreement will result in smarter, more effective and common regulation standards, a reduction in unnecessary red tape and facilitate ease of access for small and medium businesses. TTIP will be the gold standard for any future international trade deals and will cement our economies’ role in setting and raising international standards in areas such as consumer safeguards, environmental protection and employee welfare. Ireland in particular is well placed to benefit from this agreement given our strong ties to the US and our position in the value chain of many US companies.
The greatest obstacle to Europe, and Ireland, in reaching agreement lies in the misinformation that permeates much of the opposition to this agreement. For example, there has been much discussion around the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) elements of the negotiations. ISDS has long been a component of bilateral trade agreements, many involving EU member states, and provides an equitable means for investors and states to resolve disputes. Transparency of negotiations is enhanced through press conferences after each round, stakeholder meetings during each round, civil society dialogue and a very comprehensive, easily found, European Commission website.
Public debate on TTIP is to be welcomed, and we urge all stakeholders to access the array of information available in the public domain and engage in this important debate with an open mind. – Yours, etc,
Lower Mount Street,
Dublin 2 .
A chara, – Kathy Sheridan (“Ebola: how faith, hope and science play their part”, October 29th) seems to view the online critics of Texan nurse Nina Pham’s belief in prayer as representative of all atheists. She goes on to state that religious people doing good work are all too often “bound by label to the worst of their kind”. How interesting, then, to see her use Richard Dawkins as an example.
Prof Dawkins is in no way representative of atheists as a whole – if anything, his attitude is embarrassing to many. He is an atheist zealot, often offending and belittling those who disagree with his worldview. However, a large proportion of atheists – in this country, as in most others – would have begun life in a religious household, and been raised as part of a church. What turns many people off religion (aside from the logical/scientific arguments) is seeing the boundaries erected between “us” and “them”, between those of a particular faith (who will be saved) and everyone else (who will perish). Militancy in any context is pitiful. Militant atheism is no exception. Just let’s not pretend that atheists were the first to come up with such preening, patronising disdain. – Is mise,
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16.
Sir, – The discussion of the role of faith, hope and science in the cure of Texan nurse Nina Pham rather misses the point that God works, ordinarily, through natural causes. If God was going to cure Nina Pham it was always most likely he would do it through science. Not to avail of scientific means would be the sin of putting God to the test. The maxim has always been “Pray as if everything depended upon God. Act as if everything depended upon you”. – Yours, etc,
Castleknock, Dublin 15.
Sir, – The news (“National Museum considers closures and entrance fees”, Front Page, October 31st) that, because of budget and staffing cuts imposed by the Government, the National Museum of Ireland is considering closures and the introduction of entrance fees echoes our philistinism of a century ago in failing to provide a gallery for the Hugh Lane pictures. Yeats’s immortal lines about that debacle are again apposite: “What need you, being come to sense, /But fumble in a greasy till/And add the halfpence to the pence”.
The parallel here gives new meaning to our so-called “Decade of Commemorations” – no better commemoration than to repeat the folly of the past! I say to the Government, also in the words of WB Yeats, albeit in a different context: “You have disgraced yourselves again”. – Yours, etc,
FELIX M LARKIN,
Cabinteely, Dublin 18.
Sir, – There are reports that Dublin City Council is to permit the city’s buskers the use of amplification on Grafton Street for an annual fee of €60 (“Barred Temple Bar buskers to get Grafton Street reprieve”, October 28th). As the owner of a small building conservation practice located on the middle of Grafton Street, I am very concerned at this development. By way of comparison, a small office like ours located at third-floor level pays the council in excess of €1,500 annually in rates.
Grafton Street has suffered badly during the last 10 years, as is evident in the quality of the retail units on the street. Our offices are located in an elegant three-storey, over-ground floor retail unit dating from 1870. We can see down Johnson’s Court and towards the steeple of Christchurch Cathedral in Mediaeval Dublin. Sadly, our windows also afford a view of the dilapidated and empty upper floor offices of the buildings opposite. Outside of Bewley’s, Marks & Spencers, Brown Thomas and the larger department stores on the street, these units are typical of Grafton Street.
We see no advantage in turning our historic street into a 18th-century museum. As building conservation practitioners, we work to facilitate the sensitive repair of buildings and to adapt them to new and often creative new uses. At a stroke, loud amplified and uncontrolled street music removes the possibility of developing residential accommodation on or near Grafton Street and renders small office occupancy like ours impractical.
The current proposals will see Grafton Street become a karaoke ghetto and dampen hopes for its rejuvenation.
To the buskers on Grafton Street we say, “We love music but if you are good enough you are loud enough”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Funny how the Government (“Radical changes to Civil Service structure under new plan, Kenny says”, October 31st) can so easily bring in legislation to change contracts and fire “underperforming” civil servants but when it comes to the holders of larger jobs, such as underperforming chief executives of semi-State companies appointed by the Government, it seems their contracts are immune from any such action or such employees must be awarded massive compensation before they leave. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Perhaps this scheme could be extended to include Cabinet members. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In response to Dr Garrett Igoe’s letter (October 30th) raising the question about the reimbursement of innovative medicines, I would just like to clarify that the State employs a process called Health Technology Assessment (HTA) to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of new medicines compared to existing medicines.
The Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), which represents the research-based companies that develop these medicines, has an agreement in place with the State, which requires that the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics (NCPE) undertakes a detailed review of all new medicines.
This process ensures that only the most cost-effective medicines are reimbursed by the State and made available to patients in Ireland. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – In referring to the wind energy lobby’s “wind bonanza”, Colm McCarthy (October 29th) shows he is well aware of that lobby’s boundless appetite for both direct subsidy, via the iniquitous “public service obligation”, and indirect support by forcing Eirgrid into the provision of expensive transmission lines.
He fails, however, to take account of the essentially religious fervour that animates the broader green lobby. To the environmentally righteous, no element of non-fossil fuel energy can be anything but good, regardless of its costs or benefits to either the economy or the planet.
This is a mindset that is particularly impervious to reasoned argument. Good luck to Mr McCarthy in trying to convince them that “it has not been demonstrated that further wind capacity on the Irish system is a cost-effective contribution to the pressing problem of climate change”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Your rural correspondents who complain about the failure of Eircom to deliver the heavily advertised eFibre service should not feel that there is any discrimination in favour of urban customers. Our area of Dublin (Sandymount) was eFibre enabled in April 2014; there are multiple cabinets installed in the area, the nearest about 450m from our house.
We ordered an eFibre connection six months ago; when recently queried about implementation Eircom’s response was, “At the moment I do not have a guaranteed date for availability at your address”. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – I hope to wear a red poppy this November as an act of remembrance for all who have suffered because of wars and conflicts. However, I wish that we could have a slightly different poppy – a red centre bordered with a white frill. This would reflect my wish for a symbol of remembrance married to a symbol of peace. – Yours, etc,
Shankill, Co Dublin.
Sir, – I can think of no subject more likely to induce gloom in the average schoolchild than philosophy. Spare them the ramblings of the bearded cranks of yesteryear. – Yours, etc,
The news that Brendan Howlin and co are going to gut the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009 and start the procedure to increase the public service pay bill once again, proves beyond a shadow of doubt that this Government is in full retreat from the financial policies that have brought this country back from bankruptcy.
At a time when growth is tenuous and government expenditure still outstrips public income, the Government is leaving the path of financial rectitude and taking the path of Charlie McCreevy – spend the money and spend often. Labour can foresee a large number of its TDs joining the dole queues after the next election and it’s trying to shore up its support among some of its strongest supporters – the public service unions.
It should be noted that the Government will have to make some meaningful concessions to the protesters against Irish Water. That will cost money, money which Michael Noonan will have to find elsewhere.
Add in the crisis in the ‘Fair Deal’ for nursing home patients scheme, caused by the cap on funds to finance this scheme -which is going to have to be solved sooner rather later – and the public service pay bill increases.
All in all, it is clear what direction the Government is taking – it is rapidly advancing to the rear as fast as it can to avoid electoral annihilation.
So much for courage, resolution, new politics, “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s Way” and all the other attractive platitudes that the coalition parties bombarded us with in the last general election.
We are back to the old ways – welcome back Fianna Fail. They haven’t gone away, you know.
Coolock, Dublin 17
The theft this week of an important Paul Henry painting (among others) brought me back to a visit in the summer of 1961 to a small gallery of his works in an oasis-like property deep in Connemara – incidentally, a mere three years after the artist’s death in Co Wicklow.
We were a class of callow spiritual-year seminarians based in Athenry on a much needed “day out”, led by our formidable novice master keen on imparting a little culture to his charges.
As we waited in an ante-room for the curator and our ensuing tour of the exhibits, a visibly nervous Fr McDonnell whispered loudly over his shoulder: “Now, brothers, try to look intelligent!”
Rathfarnham, Dublin 16
High costs of owning a well
Having looked at the relief available for the water charges, I understand a rebate is being given to people who are served by the main supply (Irish Independent, October 30).
But I would be very pleased if you could tell me what relief I shall be entitled to as I have my own well and pay the following per year, which amounts to just over a €1000:
l A bag of salt per week is €10 which comes to €520 per year.
l Filters €120 per year.
l Service €100 per year.
l Electricity supply for pumphouse, approx €46 every two months.
If I had a choice I would gladly pay the charges for water if I was able to connect to the main supply, but unfortunately we had no choice but to have our own well as we have no access to the mains. I know there are many other houses in similar situations
I feel this should be highlighted as people don’t realise the costs involved if they have to drill there own well.
Address with editor
Leaks at Irish Water
Apparently Irish Water is seeking a data protection officer. Will he/she be able to stop the leaks ?
Utilities belong to the people
How correct letter writer Donal Deering (Irish Independent, October 30) was in making the analogy between Irish Water and Bord Gais Energy. Before Irish Water is three-quarters established, it is my guess that we could see it flogged-off under the disguise of a Bord Gais quango to some foreign non-entity at one-third of its initiation costs.
And adding to the sting, the employees will share in the spoils, possibly to the tune of many millions.
This was so when Bord Gais Energy, a constituent part of the main holding company, was sold to UK company Centricia for less than €1bn.
The Whitegate Power Plant alone is reputed to have cost over €400m to build, although its sale value was a little over €100m. Are taxpayers going to suffer a similar write-down on Irish Water?
The instigator, former Environment Minister Phil Hogan, jumped the fence to sweeter pickings even without seeing his ‘baby’ successfully launched. Too aware, of course, the terrible additional burden he had inflicted on his brethren.
Take care that Irish Water under the blanket cover of Bord Gais doesn’t ‘skip it’ as fast as Phil! All utilities should be owned and protected by the State, with only the consumers and taxpayers benefiting from them.
We don’t want more blood baths like Telecom.
Thurles, Co Tipperary
Thoughts on charges
I wish to make the following comments. The idea does not hold water – like most of the pipes. Europe having this imposition is not a valid argument – continental drainage is not incontinent.
Dr C Dupont
A nation of whingers
Regarding the water charges – our reaction proves that we have become a nation of whingers. People ask why we don’t get a reduction in tax now we are being asked to pay water charges?
The answer is simple – the Government is still borrowing €600m per month to run the country. We are still in a bankrupt state. People complain about having to submit their PRSI numbers – well if you want a free allowance of water, you need to supply your PRSI number to prove your identification; if you don’t want a free allowance of water, then don’t supply your details. But stop whinging about it!
I know people who spent hundreds of euro getting to Dublin for the weekend for the protest marches – to say they couldn’t afford the water charges.
Can pay – but can’t be bothered
I wonder how many people taking part in marches against water charges today will stop off along the routes to buy bottles of Ballygowan, River Rock etc to wet their throats so they can shout all the louder.
Reminds me of the protesters against mobile phone masts when they used to keep in touch via mobile phone.
How about the big demonstration by farmers a number of years ago, when “poor” farmers drove their new and almost new tractors through the streets of the capital.
How about people objecting to the €160 TV licence fee who don’t mind paying upwards of €50 or €60 to a foreign company supplying monthly satellite services.
Wasn’t Joan Burton ridiculed recently for pointing out the amount of expensive smart phones anti-water protesters were using?
I wonder, instead of ‘can’t pay, won’t pay’, is it not a case of ‘couldn’t be bothered,’ that is happening here.
Salthill, Co Galway